Saturday, September 15, 2007

Neponset Woolen Mills

Neponset Woolen Mills
Driving down Walpole Street at the intersection of Neponset Street and near the Canton Viaduct you will see a large construction site, soon to be the home of fancy new upscale condominiums. Here is a great example of the changes that we are undergoing as we move from a center of manufacturing - the classic New England factory town - to a bedroom community.

The image this week is of an advertisement in a national magazine probably from the early 1950's. Sportsman's delight at the warmth and comfort of pure wool woven at one of the country's premiere woolen mills Neponset Woolen Mills, Canton, Mass. The ad reads "100% Virgin Wool loomed by famous Neponset Craftsmen in comfortable, long wearing rugged Teddy-bear Finish." Fine fabrics since 1824. In the background of the logo is the Canton Viaduct and in the foreground is the Bell Tower that was the signature of the factory since it was built in the early 19th Century. In 1822 on this same site stood a blacksmith's shop which undoubtedly used the water nearby as a great power source. Only a few years later, in 1824 three entrepreneurs entered the scene and began the erection of the great stone mill which would stand for 183 years. The young owners of the company were certainly industrious and erected a small chapel, comfortable boarding houses, a schoolhouse, and a very large barn. As the company flourished, the Town of Canton opened a road across the Fowl meadows to shorten the route for teams of horses to reach Boston. The company spent more than seven thousand dollars monthly on the payroll. The enterprise must have been enormous, and unfortunately it failed within three years.

Successive owners attempted to run the mill, including Harrison Gray Otis, but all failed in rapid succession. I do wonder if this is the same famed Boston lawyer and leader of the Federalist Party... In fact, many failed enterprises used the mill well into the 1880's all with little success. In 1883 the factory was purchased from the Revere Copper Company for $35,000 along with Hartwell Farm and Hartwell Brook and several tenements. The new owners brought water to the mill and ran a bleachery. By the middle of the 20th century the mill again began making woolen products and dying the product to meet the spending needs of post-war baby-boomers.

My grandfather worked at this mill as did many of the immigrants who came to Canton to find a home for their families. The same factories that employed hundreds, also played a role in exposing these men and women to unknown toxins and poisons that shortened many lives, my grandfather included.

Successive generations had a much improved life and over the course of the past 40 years the ancient mill became a relic no longer adaptable to modern needs. In July, the wrecking ball loomed large and the "Stone Factory" as it was historically known was reduced to a pile of rubble within days. The new developer of the site promises architecture that will give a nod to the bell tower and the stone facade of the ancient mill.

It is vital to take a moment to reflect on the massive growth of this town, so close to Boston and tied by rail to the rest of the country. The early days showed tremendous promise, industrially speaking. An early Gazetteer reported: "The manufactures of Canton the year ending 1st of April, 1837, amounted to $695,180. They consisted of cotton and woolen goods, shoes, palm-leaf hats, copper, wicking, thread, candle-sticks, hoes, iron castings, trying squares, and "shapes.""

As for the advertisement, old-time residents will attest to the strength of Draper Woolen Mills & the Neponset Woolen Mills as powerful employers whose goods were known the world over.

1 comment:

Dennis G. said...

Hello. Interesting, as my Grandfather also worked at this Mill.